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Football Whispers
 By Phil Lythell

N'Golo Kante, Eden Hazard headline PFA Player of the Year nominees

Football is a team game. Success depends on the collective understanding between each of its members and them coalescing into a coherent whole. Individual genius is a crucial additional element though it can never succeed in isolation; every maestro needs a tight orchestra playing in harmony around them.

Nevertheless, individual awards always seem to capture the imagination and create much debate over the claims of each candidate. With the six nominations for the Professional Footballers Association Player of the Year award having just been revealed, those debates will once again begin in earnest.

From a Chelsea perspective it is undeniably gratifying to see two familiar names on the list in Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante. This time last year there was nobody from Stamford Bridge anywhere near it due to the club's disastrous title defence, so the presence of Hazard and Kante is yet another indicator as to how well this current campaign has gone for Chelsea.

If one was being greedy, it could be argued that perhaps there could be space for one more with both David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta having been outstanding over the past eight months. One could argue that they each have had a more tangible impact, in terms of overall team success, than some of the others on the list.

That said, it is almost always the flair players and goalscorers that grab the limelight and therefore the individual accolades. In that respect, it is good to see N'Golo Kante's work being recognised. He might have netted twice against Manchester United this term and clipped a wonderful through ball from which Eden Hazard scored at Bournemouth on Saturday but it is safe to say that invention and finishing are not the hallmarks of his game. Instead it is his insatiable appetite for tackling and winning the ball back that has been noted by his peers and seen him included on the shortlist for the second year in a row.

In fact, Kante is the only non-attacking player on the list with all either being strikers or forwards of some description. The other five all currently reside in the top nine goalscorers of the campaign and therefore all have reasonable claims. Lukaku tops the charts and Harry Kane sits second with Alexis Sanchez third. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is fourth while Hazard is in ninth. And yet sheer volume of goals is unlikely to determine the destination of this year's award. Although Arsenal and Manchester United's seasons have both been carried by Sanchez and Ibrahimovic, respectively, that both clubs risk missing out on finishing in the top-four surely mitigates against them winning the award. Lukaku's Everton, meanwhile, will probably finish outside the top six and thus hinder his chances as well.

Chelsea has only had the PFA Player of the Year twice but either N'Golo Kante or Eden Hazard figures to soon become the third to win the award.

Of all the challengers to Hazard and Kante, only Kane has a realistic shout of taking the crown. The Tottenham striker has been prolific when fit and has fired his team to the position where they have become the only realistic rivals to Chelsea in the title race. Should his goals ultimately overhaul the Blues and see Spurs win the Premier League then he would be a very worthy winner. The main hindrance to him capturing individual glory is that the PFA members have already cast their votes making any contributions in the final weeks of the season obsolete.

To date though, the impact that Hazard and Kante have had upon their team currently sitting seven points clear with seven games to go must surely set them apart. Kante has provided a tremendous mix of strength and dynamism to the midfield that was sorely lacking last season. His ability to relieve pressure and negate opposition attacks before they've even got started has been vital to Chelsea's success.

Hazard's genius might be more obvious than Kante's yet it is no less captivating. He has mesmerised all season, not least in the 5-0 evisceration of Everton in November when he put in arguably the best individual display of any player in the Premier League this season. But perhaps the main reason as to why it should be the Belgian rather than the Frenchman that takes the accolade is because of what he is doing now. 

With the finishing line in sight and the pressure intensifying, Hazard is leading by example, making the difference in every game that he plays either through scoring, assisting or just generally causing havoc. He is a big game player and doesn't just build up his numbers against lesser opposition. As such, he has recently scored against Manchester City, Arsenal and West Ham while also making decisive contributions against Leicester, Liverpool and Swansea.

Chelsea fans, however, are hardly going to quibble over the eventual victor as long as it is one of their own. The only Blues to have been named PFA Player of the Year are John Terry in 2005 and Hazard himself in 2016. Surely 2017 will see a third such crown bestowed upon somebody from Stamford Bridge.

Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.


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